More Living On The Edge

jcc-signFebruary has been a month of new experiences. Martin and I spent last week at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC where we took an art class in enameling. As artists this was a departure from our usual drawing, painting, carving — more living on the edge.

Taking Highway 11, also known as Cherokee Scenic Highway, across Upstate South Carolina, we meandered into the twisty back roads of North Carolina sometimes wondering if our GPS was really working. Highway 11 dumped us onto Whitewater Falls Road and so on and so on until signs of civilization markedly diminished.

I carried with me a copy of Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. As we snaked through the winding turns past dilapidated homes littered with rusted skeletal remains of cars and whatnot, I felt like I had entered the Appalachia described in Vance’s book. Martin and I wondered out loud how the inhabitants made a living. We encountered little traffic, and that which we did seemed to not care about speed limits or centerlines. Finally, after almost 3 hours on the road, out of seemingly nowhere, the school rose before us on a sparsely wooded hilltop. This was our home for the next several days.

Welcome to our room

Welcome to our room


JCC Folk School is an experience in itself. The accommodations consist of several homes spread across the rolling terrain within the Nantahala National Forest below the Smoky Mountains. Most likely describing the burning off of morning fog, Nantahala is Cherokee for “land of the noonday sun”.

The guest quarters along with assorted art studios, a dining hall, gift shop (of course), JCC history building and rustic offices for staff make up the campus. The main building also includes several rooms for evening events such as trivia games, square dancing and fiddle playing as well as the daily “morning song” of story telling and singing. Everything is very regimented with defined mealtimes announced by the ringing of a bell at the dining hall. There is not only six hours of studio time with instruction during the day, but many instructors also open their studio for evening work as well.

Dinner bell

Dinner bell


The houses are retrofitted into hotel type sleeping quarters. However, as we were told at Sunday afternoon orientation, this is not the Holiday Inn. There is no room service, in-room coffee pot or housekeeping to tidy up your room and make your bed every day. There are no phones, TVs or blow dryers and ironing boards. Wi-fi is weak and cell phone service is spotty. We were advised to drive a little further up the hill to a local church graveyard if we absolutely needed to make a call. There is a bin in every room with ‘towel exchange’ written on it. Towel exchange occurs on Wednesday. Oh, and there are no keys to the rooms. That’s right…no keys! You can lock your door with a dead bolt once inside. Valuables can be placed in a safe at the office. Talk about living on the edge, stepping outside your comfort zone; I found unlocked doors a little creepy.


Sunday night we were introduced to our instructor, Charity Hall (, a guest teacher of enormous talent. Her equally talented assistant, Paul Roche is an artist-in-residence. We also received an overview of the studio along with a sampling of Charity’s work — beautiful pieces of art. Ovens that would be heated in the morning to 1500 degrees lined one wall. Jars of powdered colored glass filled plastic tubs. Each student had a kit we inventoried. A couple of the seven students had previous experience, but most were novices like Martin and me.

Martin paints a switch plate after enameling

Martin paints a switch plate after enameling

An exercise in frustration for me, our first full day I sought only to keep up with understanding the process for enameling a piece of copper. Forget the artistry! I was overwhelmed. There were so many steps and they varied depending on the piece you chose to create — hammering, burnishing, wet stoning, filing, using saws and a drill. My more scientific husband was able to take the annealing, melting, pickling and various substances all in stride. The safety precautions alone set me back as I cautiously used the ever-clicking ovens and set timers for only two minutes to melt the glass into enamel. Fifteen hundred degrees is glowing hot!

Following dinner at 6 many students returned to the studio. A mentally exhausted me went back to our room to enjoy a glass of wine (no alcohol is allowed anywhere on campus but the rooms), take a shower, read a few pages of Hillbilly Elegy before tucking myself into bed at 8 p.m.

Next morning Martin walked to the main building to fetch coffee in our brought-from-home mugs. We sat with the blinds open enjoying the scenery of the notoriously foggy mountains and sipping hot coffee before heading to the dining hall for breakfast. As a gardener I much appreciated the five minute walk through the daffodil speckled woods each morning. Emerging at the main campus we were greeted with dusky purple, pink and green hellebores and tiny crocus among the periwinkle.

Kathy's enameled fall leaves

Kathy’s enameled fall leaves

After a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruit and biscuits, we wandered down another path to the studio, me feeling more like I could grasp the intricacies of enameling, Martin ready for a larger project. By the end of this day, I was still living on my personal edge but approaching a certain comfort with the process as I produced some amazing pieces of art. Along with my comfort came confidence. Exhilarating!

While we, as human beings often shy away from any experience making us feel uneasy, with practice and patience (not one of my strong points) comes comfort. Stretching our abilities is the only way to continue stretching our minds and emotions at any age. Good stress creates a great life. Yes, February was a month of new experiences, of feeling overwhelmed at times and definitely uncomfortable. But, it was also a month for adventure and growth. As I look at what I accomplished this month, I don’t feel retired; I feel reawakened. And I look forward to more living on the edge.

19 comments on “More Living On The Edge

  1. How exciting. Sounds like it would have been something I could relate to a little bit. I have to admit, having our glass studio has been the best thing for my “semi-retirement” and JJs full retirement. It helps keep us active physically and mentally! Great article Kathy! Can’t wait to hear about your next life adventure.


  2. We have traveled those Appalachia roads as well, as my ancestors lived in eastern Kentucky for generations. I read Hillbilly Elegy recently. The mother in that book is my 6th cousin. I recognized Blanton, the last name, as one of half a dozen whose people intermarried for many years. In Harlan, where we spent a night, I learned I was related to almost everyone in the town.


  3. Well done for living on the edge!
    Sounds like you chose a lovely spot to learn enamelling. I love it. I was introduced to it a few years ago. Now I combine it with silver as well, to make some jewellery pieces. I still do copper too…
    I only found your retirement blog a few weeks ago, but I totally support your journey through retirement. Like you, my husband and I are determined to make the most of every hour of it.


    • Thanks Erith! It is a beautiful spot in one of the most beautiful areas of the US. Our instructor, Charity will be back next August to teach a class on settings for jewelry making. She creates some beautiful pieces (as you do). Maybe that will be my next adventure. I’m glad to hear you are making the most of your retirement time…it’s the only way to live! K

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We drove up to the school once out of curiosity (from Atlanta). Their instructors are known to be excellent and we wondered what it would be like to stay there. Now we know! Would you do it again?


  5. This sounds like an exciting experience, and I love your enameled fall leaves. I don’t think the unlocked doors are all that unusual in rural areas. (I confess that I sometimes forget to lock doors in my rural house for days at a time.)


    • Joyce do try painting and the arts. Many many people discover talents later in life. I did with drawing. Artists never retire! Joining art classes and associations will not only provide a social outlet and help you make new friends, you will also find a pastime that is a never-ending source of inspiration for your life. K


  6. The comments in the last paragraph brought to mind quotes from >35 yrs ago – All things are difficult before they are easy. AND – Difficulties are meant to arouse, not discourage.


  7. Oh Wow! I just discovered your blog last week and was very impressed! This trip and experience sounds wonderful. Thank you for sharing. I am newly retired (July 1, 2016) and working on learning new things and enjoying my husband, daughters and 3 grandsons.


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